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It Took a Village


“HealthTran was a lifesaver - more like a leg saver,” Leo Haralson stated during a HealthTran videotaping last fall. “I’m not sick; I have a car. I just needed some help right now.”

Last year, Leo received a toe amputation which resulted in a bone infection. To save his leg, daily hyperbaric treatments were needed and the closest medical facility was 30 miles away. If he didn’t get treatment he could lose his leg, if he didn’t get care, he could lose his life.

How was he going to get the treatments? Leo was lucky. He was connected to HealthTran by Holly Williams with Ozarks Medical Center’s Wound Care.

“It took a village,” said HealthTran Coordinator, Sandra Morris, who linked SMTS public transport, South Howell Medical Transport (SHMT), and West Plains Transit System (WPTS/City of West Plains) to not only schedule the daily long-distance trips but trips within city limits to complete additional medical appointments for Leo. “I feel so honored to have had the privilege of scheduling these trips and been witness to the results. Leo’s and so many others success stories are a testament to our transportation organizations dedication to the program and working together.”

“HealthTran is here because of people like Leo. We want to put names, faces and experiences to what otherwise we tend to discuss as an issue, or a policy”, stated Suzanne Alewine, Executive Director of Missouri Rural Health Association (MRHA). Healthtran, a program of MRHA, is the missing link between health care coordination and transportation, creating a simple effective and paperless process which allows medical staff to ask, ‘Do you need a ride?’ In Leo’s case, he needed assistance with 64 trips before his health allowed him to finish up the remaining 30 treatments by driving himself.”

“It Took a Village” concept is especially true for building a community non-emergency health transportation system. In order to cover HealthTran’s 10-county region (Christian, Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Shannon, Taney, Texas, Webster, and Wright), OATS, Preventative Health Transport (Ozark Ambulance District), Texas County Memorial Hospital’s Medi-Vans, Houston City Transit and Licking Bridge Builders all work together with SMTS, WPTS, and SHMT to meet the transportation needs of the communities they serve. The health partners of Ozarks Medical Center, Cox Health, Southern Missouri Community Health Center, Missouri Ozarks Community Health, Jordan Valley Community Health Center, Burton Creek and Texas County Memorial Hospital are asking ‘Do you need a ride?’ and are working to schedule appointments to meet transportation schedules.

HealthTran began as a pilot program working to gather data to improve health outcomes by reducing the transportation barrier. It is not a government assistance program and the service is directed to those who are unable to access transportation through other channels such as the Medicaid non-emergency medical transport program, veteran’s transportation assistance, or others who have access or can afford transportation. HealthTran works to fill in the gap for those who may or may not have insurance, but are unable to get to the doctor. The growth and need of this type of service is staggering. In the first three months of the program, 94 trips were scheduled. As the program worked with the partners to improve the process, a 100% satisfaction rate from patients resulted in over 2,575 referrals in 2015. With the support of our partners and community, the service could triple in 2016.

Consider that 1 in every 5 Americans has a disability, 1 in 3 seniors have poor transportation access and the numbers of aging individuals is expected to triple by 2030. When healthcare costs are soaring, public transit dollars are shrinking (Missouri has declined 93% in the past 14 years and dropped from 50 cents per capita 2015 to just 9 cents per capita for 2016) and new federal and state mandates are creating rural hospital closures throughout the nation, in the words of Dale Marsico, former CEO of the Community Transportation Association of America, “a tsunami is coming.”

To address the health and transportation crisis at the federal level, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and Easter Seals combined forces through the Rides to Wellness initiative and offered sixteen grants to design innovative pilots.

HealthTran was selected and linked forces with HealthTran partners, Ozark Action and South Central Ozarks Council of Governments (SCOCOG) to address sustainability and expansion of the program throughout Missouri. “The last thing we wanted was to have a great program that disappears when the grant money runs out”,” stated program manager Mary Gordon. Through local stakeholder meetings, surveys, and assessments, two viable solutions were determined by creating sustainability through a membership dues structure and mobility management education and training to increase awareness and knowledge. HealthTran is incorporating both goals in MRHA’s 2016 strategic plan. MRHA is a non-profit organization with the mission of improving the lives of rural Missourians through advocacy, communication, collaborations, education and research.

“A village is indeed what it takes. With an issue of this magnitude, community investment is essential,” says Ride to Wellness Director, Doris Boeckman. She also said, “Transportation is expensive, whether it is personal (own your own vehicle) or public. HealthTran is a very affordable option, but even at present fees, it is beyond the means of many. The new MRHA membership structure will support HealthTran, improve population health and enhance model replication opportunities through Missouri.” To learn more, or to join MRHA, contact MRHA at or visit the new website (under construction) at

To hear Leo’s story, visit the following YouTube link:

Pictured left to right: Irene Hoyt, SHMT Senior Drive; Daniel Johnson, SHMT Driver; Drew Hill, Orthotist & Prosthetist; Randi Russell, Director of OMC Wound Care Services; Sue Hudson, RN, OMC Wound Care Services; Mr. Leo Haralson, Patient; Andrew Johnson, LPN, OMC Wound Care Services; Dr. Jon Mattson, D.O., OMC Wound Care; Jeff Jones, VP of OMC Clinics; Holly Turner, Office Assistant, OMC Wound Care Services; Gay Watson, Senior Executive Director of OMC Marketing & Public Relations; Savannah Smith, RN, OMC Wound Care Services; Tom Keller, President & CEO of OMC; Sandra Morris, HealthTran Coordinator; Mary Gordon, Area Supervisor, MRHA; Shareen Delp, HealthTran Coordinator; Denola Belcher, West Plains Transit Driver; Charles Rader, SHMT Operations Manager; Irene Ford, SMTS Area Supervisor; Steve Bush, SMTS Regional Manager; and Jim McGee, SHMT Director.

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